Monday, October 30, 2006

One Outta Three Ain't Bad

by Tom Bozzo

Bill Wineke says in the State Journal that next weekend, Catholic Mass-goers will be treated to a 14-minute audio recording of the bishop announcing his positions on the "marriage referendum, the death penalty referendum and the issue of embryonic stem-cell research." While this sort of preannouncement itself might simply depress that Sunday's attendance, Wineke reports that the order was accompanied by a strict admonition that nothing remotely resembling a negative gloss shall be given from the pulpit under pain of whatever discipline might befall a diocesan priest for suggesting that the Bishop might be full of something other than holiness. (The Diocese posted the full letter here (pdf) and the audio of the Bishop's homily here [WMA format].) And that's because, you see, the U.S. Catholic Church has such an oversupply of chaste heterosexual priests that message discipline can be their first concern!

So maybe in an advanced excercise of reverse psychology, Morlino is trying to get more people to hear his sensible (anti) position the death penalty and the far less sensible positions staked out by his church on the other issues by tempting us to see just what might be snigger-worthy about his spiel. Other than that the Bishop's delivery is vaguely like Eugene Levy's in "A Mighty Wind," that is.

One thing I'd almost be fascinated enough to hear would be how (if at all) Morlino and the diocesan lawyers are attempting to stay on the side of the line between moralizing and electioneering that's consistent with tax-exempt status. On the same-sex marriage and civil unions ban, Morlino would be joining the likes of the wingnutty Focus on the Family in testing what a 501(c)(3) organization can get away with as "educating" people on the issue.

Even if Morlino ostensibly sticks to offering his own opinions, we might wish that the quality of the education were likely to be better.

On same-sex marriage, the Church position, as we've noted before, is a mishmash of incoherently selective Biblical fundamentalism and rank hypocrisy. Once you move beyond ancient assertions of at best dubious provenance towards a rational view of homosexuality, it becomes frankly silly for any self-appointed defender of marriage to want to do anything other than encourage the formation and preservation of stable relationships. Morlino is also a fan of the "we're just saving civilization" pitch, regarding which we note the continuing absence of the breakdown of civil society in those polities that tolerate same-sex marriage or at least equivalent civil rights.

And sure enough, Morlino is insulting his congregants' intelligence by drawing a line straight from changes in traditional marriage to the collapse of the family (q.q.v.), and saying that he's sick and tired of the public telling him that their intelligence is being insulted.

The gist of his argument is that there's no "right to redefine marriage." (You might wonder just who had the right to redefine marriage as an exchange between exactly one man and exactly one woman in the first place.) This is sufficient to let Morlino completely ignore the fundamental political issue — seeing as the state can't make churches recognize civil marriage (*) — of whether it's fair or otherwise appropriate to deny same-sex couples an array of civil rights.

On stem-cell research, the Catholic church is also in a bind. Politically (**), and even morally (***), it's necessary to explain why research use of donated embryos is unjustifiable. That, unfortunately, has led to the adoption of vacuous right-wing talking points on subjects like the purported adequacy of adult stem-cell research. This leads to other moral problems as it's reprehensible to misstate the science. Moreover, even if you happened to think that adult ailments could never justify research on embryos, there are subjects of obvious research interest, such as processes of embryonic development, for which embryonic stem cells are obviously (if not uniquely) suited.

So by the time we get around to having the Church on the good guys' side in the effort to bring Wisconsin its own useless and expensive death penalty — where as a corollary to the absence of doom in Massachusetts, we note that failing to kill murder convicts hasn't turned Wisconsin into a set for Escape from New York III — I'm inclined to say thanks but no thanks.


(*) For example, the Catholic Church doesn't recognize civil marriage involving divorced Catholics.

(**) See: Tommy G. Thompson, seemingly having fallen off the weight loss wagon of his HHS days (cashing in on the K Street Project while it lasts is calorie-intake-extensive?), trying to save Mark "Most of My Substantive and Even Scurrilous Criticisms of Jim Doyle Could Boomerang on Me and My Involvement in the Corrupt Republican Congress" Green's bacon from Michael J. Fox by claiming Green really isn't against stem-cell research (but pointedly failing to note that Green most definitely is against the embryonic stem-cell research pioneered at the UW).

(***) While it, admirably for the most part, casts a much more skeptical eye on takings of human life than many other organizations, it falls short of asserting that doing so is never justifiable.
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